We made it to Penang Island, Malaysia and are excited to explore our home for the next four weeks. We spend the first couple of days settling in and coming to terms with the high humidity (think of those handful of Midwestern summer days where everything crunchy in your cupboard goes stale in hours – that is every day), getting Malaysian SIMs for our phones (cheaper even than Thailand), shopping for groceries, and swimming in the pool. Since we are farther out in the suburb of Gelugor, our trips to sightsee will be more planned than in Chiang Mai.
So in the meantime, here are a few miscellaneous parting thoughts about Thailand:
- Packaging glue is something to be reckoned with in Thailand, especially when it comes to pre-packaged snacks. I don’t know why chips need to be childproof, but I needed scissors to open them. Every time. I feel so weak.
- There are so many snack flavors – various seafoods, hotpot, hamburger, bbq, extra bbq, nori seaweed, corn soup (that one was on a bag of popcorn), miang kham, cheese ice cream. Even chrysalis snacks for those willing to eat fried bug larva (it wan’t as tasty as I hoped, but I can see it being better freshly fried or as a topping).
- Forget credit cards and carry cash, preferably small bills. ATMs only want to give out 1,000 baht bills, so you have to break them at 7-Eleven or another chain store. Then you can go to the yummier places to eat with all the 100 and 20 baht notes you get as change.
- It is incredibly common to have dual-purpose outlets that support North American plugs without adapters. So that those converters you purchased are wholly unnecessary. Just toss the doohickey in the garbage, plug your phone into the wall, and forget about it.
- Eating street food might be the biggest highlight. There is a small chance you will get sick (we racked up one case of food-related illness between us), but that mostly doesn’t happen. And the thing that probably caused it was fish that had been sitting out, for a few hours at least, on a 90 degree holiday with fewer patrons than usual. And we ate just about everything else we saw, including other fish, with no ill effects except a craving for more.
- There are a surprising amount of tourists/expats in Chaing Mai, and that increases ten- or twenty-fold in the Old City. And a surprising number of those are older men with Thai wives/girlfriends/escorts. It is a little bit unnerving and a little gross. Don’t get me wrong, some have clearly fallen in love and both partners are happy, committed, and enjoying each other and their family. But others… not so much. I’m especially suspicious when the age difference is more than 10 years or so. I really hope that maybe I saw the couple on a bad day or that at least they each treat the other with respect and caring at other times. But I have a horrible feeling that some are one-sided with one partner is trapped by economics, lack of education, or some equally unfair disadvantage.
- Lighter skin is a big deal. I think the tanning craze has been over in the US almost as long as I’ve been out of high school, but here the opposite extreme happens. Not only is a dark tan frowned upon, but light skin is the focus of a large portion of lotions and soaps. They are advertised as ‘Whitening’ or ‘Lightening.’ I’m not sure what ingredients create this effect, but sunscreen is a better alternative.
- Written Thai is confusing. Words are not divided from one another in the same way as in English – so sentences appear to be one long string of letters. It makes picking out individual words impossible without prior knowledge. (**However, Thai TV is very good at being accessible to the deaf. Most news channels have an interpreter in the lower corner, and other channels, especially those showing movies dubbed from another language, will have close captions running along the bottom.) Thankfully, spoken Thai is easier to pick up and basic phrases and numbers are simple to learn in an hour or less.
- Street dogs are everywhere. Very few pets are leashed (and the ones that are have good reason to be) and are free to wander around day and night. In our neighborhood they bark a lot. And while their bite is not worse than their bark, they do bite.
- Which brings me to cheap and efficient medical care: Both post-exposure rabies shots, a series of antibiotics (which I ended up not taking because my bite didn’t get infected), and the doctor’s visit amounted to less than $100USD. There is a reason medical tourism is a growing industry. The hospital was (once we got to the right counter) clean, fully & competently staffed, and not much different than a hospital in a medium-sized city in the US. On a side note – before we left the US, we each received three rounds of pre-exposure rabies vaccine, and each was billed at a rate of $324 (thankfully completely covered by insurance as preventative care). Each of the two shots in Thailand was less than $30. So even paying out of pocket didn’t add to the pain. (We do have travel insurance, but are not yet up to our deductible.)
- Everyone is really kind – willing to offer directions or suggestions if they see you are lost or confused, happy to work with you to get you the meal you want, and smile as you stumble through attempts at speaking Thai and nod encouragement and let you know where in the sentence you went wrong. Locals all spoke enough English to help us through our transactions. Occasionally they were hesitant to use it, perhaps because they were shy about pronunciation or grammear, but it was clear that their knowledge of English far surpassed our Thai vocabularies.
- Spirit houses and small offerings are commonplace. Spirit houses are usually placed in one of the corners of the property and are on a pillar. The small structures are often accompanied by flowers, fruits, open drinks, and figurines. Businesses that don’t have room out front will have a shelf set up inside with the same purpose. Offerings are sometimes left outside near doors or at the base of trees as well.
- It was an incredibly safe city. I never felt awkward or unwelcome or afraid walking around (though now I check twice where the dogs are at). Apparently pickpockets can strike at the crowded markets or tourist sights, but we never had need to worry.